We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Warfare & the Rise of Civilization

In a research paper entitled, "War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies," a team of researchers led by Dr. Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, reports the findings of its research into the causes of the spread of ancient complex societies.  It employed a computer model, which predicted with 65% accuracy where ancient civilizations actually arose.  While climate, geography, and the presence of agriculture are important contributing factors in the model, the team found that the primary factor for the emergence and growth of complex societies was warfare.    The report states, "We have argued here that this pattern was due to the emergence and spread of technologies enabling more intense forms of warfare that, in turn, created selection pressures for the cultural evolution of norms and institutions, making possible cooperating groups numbering in the millions."

If correct, people of faith have to ask some hard, unsettling questions about "the way God works" in the world.  It is one thing to see in war an example of human brokenness, but it is quite another to claim that warfare is a primary carrier of civilization.  That claim is counterintuitive in a seriously uncomfortable way.  How is it that a God of love built the hurt and horror of war into our creation?  This question is, of course, but a variation of the whole question of the relationship of God to evil.

For those of us who are people of faith, then, we stand somewhere between two realities.  One is evil.  The other one is the equally or still more compelling realities of love, beauty, and the way in which the universe is constructed to be hospitable to life on Earth.  We have witnessed and felt the power of a deeper spiritual reality, and without pretending that there are any easy answers to the other reality of evil our intuition as Christians is that God's will as we see it in Christ is ultimately not crucifixion but Resurrection.

It is a statement of faith when one says, "The reality of evil is so compelling I cannot believe in God."  There is no proving that a-theism is correct.  The same is true when one says, "The reality of love is so compelling that I must believe in God."  There is no proving that a theistic faith in God is correct.  That's why it is faith.  And any person of a theistic faith who is not uncomfortable with the provisional nature of faith is not paying attention to the real world that is the arena of our faith.  Once we get comfortable with our faith in God it turns into an idolatrous ideology.